Seattle Now & Then: Seattle Center Corral

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Pioneer photographer Theodore Peiser’s record of the U.S. Army corral in the future Seattle Center dates from the summer of 1900. The tower of the old Mercer School at Valley Street and 4th Avenue can be found above the hat of the cowboy nearest the scene’s center. (Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)
NOW: On the Memorial Day afternoon of this year’s Folklife Festival, Jean Sherrard looks north and a little east with his back to Seattle Center’s International Fountain. It is a prospect close to the one Peiser took 112 years earlier.

The lawn just north of Seattle Center’s International Fountain has a sundry history that is unlike your own neighborhood.  David and Louisa Denny, the youngest of Seattle’s first pioneers who were not children, picked their claim here in the early 1850s, and “proved” it, in part, with a “North Seattle” garden that became an important source of produce for Seattle.

The Denny farmhouse was at 3rd and Republican which is about one long horseshoe’s throw to the north from where respectively in this “then” and “now” government horses are corralled and youth mingle.  The land east from here to the south end of Lake Union was mostly open, and so helpful for farming.  It was also dotted by willows, had some swampy edges and thereby provided both water for cabbages and beets and attracted ducks for hunting.

After the growing family built a larger home, also on Republican but nearer Lake Union, their farm was tended by Chinese immigrants and was then popularly known as China Gardens.  The army took possession in 1898 with a short-lived corral meant to supply horses and mules to the then glorified wars with Spain first and then the Philippine Insurrection.

In 1903 the Denny claim was outfitted with Recreation Park, the first stadium for the Pacific Coast Baseball League’s Seattle Siwashes, a name meaning Indians that was lifted from the Chinook trade jargon.  Most likely the Siwashes did not know that they were playing ball on grounds that long before bats swung at balls were used by the local Duwamish Indians for potlatches, their gregarious ritual for gaining prestige by giving gifts.

Somewhat similarly, Civic Auditorium, the first modern addition to the Potlatch Meadows and the Denny garden, was born of Pioneer Square saloon-keeper James Osborne’s $20,000 gift to the city in 1881.  Osborne stipulated a “civic hall” and with 50 years interest, his bequest both gave him posthumous prestige and Seattle its Civic Auditorium.  It was Seattle’s 1930 start on both Century 21 and a City Center on a unique neighborhood now long given to planting, performing and play.


Anything to add, Paul?

Certainly Jean. We’ll pull some past features,  photos, clippings – some of which we have used earlier in different blog contexts.  We’ll begin by attaching other Peiser photos of the corral and a few Seattle Times clips that refer to it.  We’ll mix them up some.

Looking southwest towards Capitol Hill horizon.
Looking northeast across the southeast corner of Queen Anne Hill.
This clip reveals the army's needs and intentions for another corral at Ft. Lawton.
The North Seattle corral demolished - news from Jan. 1, 1901.
Another look to the northeast.
The Denny acres looking south from near Mercer Street with the Army and its corral the temporary tenant in 1900-1901.
A pan from the Fisher bldg roof during the 2006 Bumbershoot. It looks north over much the same acres as shown in the Prosch view - that looks south - above it.
A Times clip from Feb. 18, 1901.
Prosch aims east to a Capitol Hill horizon and over the distance of the Army corral from a prospect near Warren Ave. and Republican Street.
An approximate "repeat" for the Prosch view above it, looking east on Republican from near Warren Avenue, 2012.

[The short feature that follows appeared in the Times for Nov. 29th, 1987 – gosh now nearly a quarter century ago!]


(First appeared in Pacific Nov. 29, 1987)

Retracing the history of the Seattle Center site reveals its pastoral roots. David and Louisa Denny referred to this part of their claim as their “Swale:” a meadow with a few swampy edges. They built their cabin and planted their garden here in 1856 near Third Avenue and Republican Street.  The site was ideal for both growing flowers and vegetables and duck hunting. Ducks skimming across this low passage between Elliott Bay and Lake Union were caught in the Indians’ finely spun nets.

According to David Buerge, Seattle historian, one Indian name for this area was Potlatch Meadows, referring to the Indian ritual of gift-giving. Another name, Bakbakwok, means “land of many prairies.”  And a prairie is what Denny’s swale resembles in this 1899 scene. The couple’s home and garden have been long since moved from the site. This wetland between Queen Anne and Denny hills was used as a corral for mules fattening for service in the Spanish-American War.

In the late 1920s the city’s Civic Coliseum, Ice Arena and Civic Field distinguished the site. Then just 25 years ago (from the point-of-view of 1987) the World’s Fair settled here and gave everyone a look at Century 21.


SEATTLE NOW & THEN, VOL. 3, featured a few Lower Queen Anne stories in its first pages, and also decorated its covers with the four views of Seattle Center and the City taken from the hill in 1896, 1928, 1930 and about 1984.   [Like the other two Seattle Now and Then volumes, No. 3 can be studied on this blog.  Visit the “History Books” button and give its cover the mouse-press.]


(First published in Pacific, June 14, 1987)

In 1989 the Seattle Space Needle Corporation, in its continuous attempt to lift customers to its restaurant, advised tourists and their hosts, “If you’re going to see one thing . . . see everything.”  This is the paradox that expresses the panoramist’s urge to see it all at once – and in detail.  Ever since Seattle overran North Seattle in the 1890s and pushed its northern border  up Queen Anne Hill, that hill has been the favorite prospect from which to see it all.

The four wide shots from Queen Anne Hill included here all look south across what was David and Louisa Denny’s pioneer claim and is now – much of it – Seattle Center.   The views show roughly the same territory and were photographed within an easy underhanded slow pitch church softball throw of one another.

Jean's repeat that we used in the recent MOHAI "Repeat Photography" exhibit.

Across the sky of the oldest view, photographer C.L.Andrews has scrawled his dramatic caption, “Seattle when the Klondike was struck – 1896.”  Beginning in 1897, Seattle was “struck” by the gold rushers, who bought their outfits here and later, if they were fortunate, invested their gold here, or at least assayed it here.

David Denny was not so fortunate.  The Alaska Gold Rush came three years too late to save him from bankruptcy following the 1893 market crash.  So by 1897, the first year of Seattle’s economic recovery, David and Louisa no longer owned their claim.

Our oldest photograph also shows Denny Hill, with its namesake hotel on top gradually rising from the meadows in the foreground. The hotel straddled Third Avenue between Stewart and Virginia Streets, on the “front” or southern summit of the hill.  (From Queen Anne Hill one could not easily tell that Denny Hill was made from two humps with Virginia Street the draw between them.)

Part of what was once Denny Hill is marked in the scene photographed by A. Curtis.  The rough clearing on the left is the flattened hill following its last regrade in 1929-1930. (Actually is continued into 1931 but not that one could easily notice from this prospect.) Curtis took his photograph in 1930, the first complete year of the next depression, the “great” one. As the photograph shows, the city has changed so radically in the 34 intervening years that it is difficult to find any connection between the two views.  There are but a few familiar homes in the foreground of the two scenes.

The 1930 view shows the Seattle skyline that essentially represented the city until the Space Needle was built in 1961-62.  Another World’s Fair creation, the Opera House, is not included in any of the views.  Originally constructed out of the old Civic Auditorium with a lavish renovation in 1961-62, it was more recently – in 2001-03 – stripped for another make over into the current McCaw Hall and Kreielsheimer Promenade. (Ordinarily there is not much talk about the Kreielsheimer Promenade, although there is a lot of talking in it, as McCaw Hall visitors use it for pre-concert mixing.  Jean and I were part of group of arts oriented writers who wrote the history of the Kreielsheimer Foundation in 2000 – or near it.)   All of its – the Civic Auditorium-cum-Opera House-cum-McCaw Hall – permutations (or mutations), along with the contiguous ice arena and playfield, were built in 1927-28 on the site of what was a half-century earlier the old Denny garden.

Under construction on Jan. 9, 1928. Courtesy of the Municipal Archives.

THE MOST VISIT QUEEN ANNE PROSPECT on West. Highland Drive at Kerry Park  is about five blocks west of the perch used for the images above.  There – at Kerry – Jean stands in profile and perchance alone as he visits one favored subjects.

Jean Sherrard recording the city from Kerry Park on May 28, 2012. Standing 6 feet 6 inches in his bare feet, Jean still stands of the wall meant to safeguard the great snapping horde that regularly visits the park for their own recordings.

Soon Jean is joined by others.  Can you find him behind his new Nikon?

And I too turned my camera that late May Monday afternoon (the last day of Folklife) to the city from Kerry Park.  Perhaps Jean will insert his recording and we can compare the clouds.

Jean sends these – same day, same time.




LAWTON GOWEY's pan from the early 1970s.
Most likely I snapped - and joined or merged - this in the 1980s.
This merge from Kerry Park I dated 1994, and most likely used high-resolution Technical Pan film, which was my practice then. It gave high definition but was temperamental with the exposure during developing. Note how the sky is bit light about one-fourth of the way in from the left border. That is an artifact of the developing process and not that day's weather. Not with a scan and some photoshop polish I could correct it, but most likely will not.

SEATTLE CENTER SITES on or near the acres of the DENNY GARDEN

JEAN again, at last year's Bumbershoot Festival on the lawn south of the International Fountain. Perhaps he can find the portraits he snapped here.

Jean answers with what is first below.

Frank Shaw's Bumbershoot action with - and on - the sculpture named Moses. Surely this is in the old Denny Garden, for it is very close to Third and Republican, and so near the sit of their home too.
I remember this Bumbershoot day as hot, but as a sign of age I can no longer remember the name of this acquaintance from the early-mid 1970s.
Floats from a Seafair parade gather for a last hurrah in the Memorial Stadium many years after the garden and a few before Century 21. Part of the Warren Avenue school shows on the right and part of the Armory peeks around the corner of the stadium's covered seating.
A stadium use during Century 21. Look up into the sky.
During the 1962 World's Fair the Memorial Stadium's running track was fitted for an aquatic show. Both this pix and the one above it were photographed by Frank Shaw who also lived in the neighborhood.
The old an measurably more hazardous International Fountain circa 1979. I liked the back-light.


From his Capitol Hill apartment Bob Bradley snapped this Space Needle at sunset.

On first seeing it in 1962, Herman Key’s eight-year-old niece announced,  ” What a SPLENDID SPACE NEEDLE!”  Herman was my art instructor then and his Salon in Spokane, our home town then, was a most invigorating collection of Inland Empire wits.

During the summer of 1963 I drove with Herman and Sharlee to Seattle to again witness the "splendid' Needle but more to another point, visit their close friend, the jazz violinist Joe Venuti, who then had a long gig on a stage somewhere on Westlake - the part by Lake Union. (Herman also played the violin, the classical kind.) Venuti willed his violins to Herman, who then displayed them in his and Sharlee's old Brown's Addition manse in Spokane. Here's Herman with Joe's violins, and parts of two of his paintings. His grand home was lavishly appointed with them. Below is one more "abstract" or "action" Keys, the Green Canvas I pleaded for and got.

Frank Shaw's Needle on Dec. 10, 1961.
A young Victor Lygdman's birthing Space Needle earlier in 1961. We named this "We Come in Peace" and included it in our MOHAI "Repeat Photography" exhibit.
Jean's soft but sturdy diplomacy coaxed the family in the left foreground to take the pose of Lygdman's greeter.


My first impression on viewing Victor Lygdman’s dramatic meeting of a boy and his alien was “we come in peace.”  It is the name we gave this subject in “Repeat Photography,” the MOHAI exhibit of many “now and then” features that appeared first here in Pacific over the past nearly 30 years.  (The Seattle Times is one of the exhibit’s sponsors.)

Often we hear that it is “icon this and icon that.”  There is presently an icon hysteria. We, however, will avoid calling the Space Needle such, although for a devoted Seattle it quickly became our steel and concrete analogy for an Eastern Orthodox Madonna painted on wood.  The boy we don’t know, or rather the photographer Lygdman has left no name for him.  Perhaps he is still in Seattle, sometimes still facing its Space Needle, and this morning reading its Sunday Times.

Through the so far brief history of this city it has had only, it seems to me, three graven images: the Smith Tower (1914), the Kalakala (1935), “world’s first streamlined ferry,” and since 1962 this friendly usurper that was raised as the centerpiece for the city’s second worlds fair: Century 21.

Frank Shaw's dazzling recording of the Kalakala as it rests in the slip between a worn Colman Dock, on the left, and Shaw's platform, Pier 51, which was then recently cleared of its pier shed. The Norton Building at 2nd and Columbia, Seattle's first glass curtain highrise, is the dark rectangle above the ferry.

When viewed from Pioneer Square, the Smith Tower, with its gleaming terra-cotta tile skin, continues to stand out favorably with the taller towers that followed after and behind it.  In 1967 the Kalakala was sold into an Alaskan exile of processing crab & canning. Then in 1998 it was heroically rescued, towed and returned to a Seattle that had, however, grown inured to its art deco charms and unforgiving of its dents.  It was thumbs down for the ferry, which was towed away – ultimately to Tacoma.

The pampered and polished Space Needle, however, is now being prepared for next year’s golden anniversary. (This, it seems, first appeared in Pacific in 2011.)

The Needle's 10th Anniversary fireworks,1972. Photo by Lawton Gowey.
The Universal Worm reaches the lip of the Space Needle on Art Day, 1971. It was the "first monumental adjustment" of the city Icon (a good use of "icon") that was not an explosion.

The Universal Worm – aka “Tiger’s Tail” – was a form sometimes seen in the works of artists loosely (the only kind involved) connected with the Shazzam Society in the late 1960s and eternally to both sides of those impressionable years, which often seemed – at the time – eternal.  After filming and collecting film recordings of the variety of multi-day music festivals hereabouts in the late 1960s and  early 1970s, beginning with the first Sky River Rock Festival, which I was also involved in helping get going, I escaped to a cabin on the west shore of Lummi Island and wrote a script for a film that was a mix of documentary – of those festivals mostly – theatrical bits – which we staged  – and animation.  The Universal Worm was especially suited to the last – animation.  With the help of John Hillding and the Land Truth Company – or Truthco for short – we featured this great soft sculpture of inflated plastic – in both white/black and black/yellow editions –  in many situations, including hanging this one from the lip of the Space Needle.  And John did manage to get it all the way to the lip, where it promptly brushed the Needle’s somewhat ornamental concrete struts and sprang a leak, quickly deflating for a not so spectacular return to earth.  We have the film, and expect to get to the editing sometimes “soon.”

Variations on a Universal Worm
Before the Space Needle's shape was rendered on a napkin another tower was imagined to represent a proposed Seattle World's Fair. Here are Francis Miller on the left and Jim Faber, an old friend of mine and the first publicist for Century 21 and Deputy Director too, on the right studying the proposed space exhibit for the fair. This proposal, thankfully, after gaining federal support - Jim's labor - mutated into the fair's science pavilion.

Earlier another Seattle world’s fair proposal flopped, in part because it was interrupted by a World War Two.  The brains behind this effort were connected in the late 1930s with Seattle’s “Third Daily,” the Seattle Star.



(First appeared in Pacific, 6/12/88)

At different times, two towers have looked down on the neighborhood around Fourth Avenue and Thomas Street.  As landmarks go, they hardly can be compared.  One tower is the city’s present baton, the Space Needle.  The other tower belonged to Fire Station No. 4 with its elegant English-style architecture.

Station No. 4 was built in 1908 and was first occupied on Oct. 15 of that year.  Its three grand double doors opened to a steamer, a pump, and a hose wagon, all of them horse-drawn.  Engine Company No. 4 had moved over from an old clapboard station nearby at Fourth Ave. and Battery St., which had been razed that year during the Denny Regrade.   According to fire service records preserved faithfully by Seattle Fire Dept. historian Galen Thomaier, only 13 years later the company moved back to Fourth and Battery into yet another new station.  It is still there.

For four years following this final move in 1921, the still relatively new but deserted structure was idle until the Seattle Fire Department transferred over its alarm center from the SFD’s old headquarters at Third Ave. and Main Street. For some reason, when this station was picked for the alarm center, its third floor gables were cut away.  The tower looked awkwardly stranded beside its flattened station before it, too, was lowered.

As pictured here, Fire Station No. 4 is the original stone-and-brick beauty designed by one of Seattle’s more celebrated historical architects.   After James Stephen won a 1902 contest for school design, he was employed as the city’s school architect and gave most of his time to designing public schools, more than twenty of them.



An April 26, 1903 adver to a baseball match at Recreation Park between the San Francisco and Seattle professionals. The later were called the Siwashes.
Denny Hill and its namesake Denny Hotel, aka the Washington Hotel, pose a backdrop for Recreation Field, seen here, in part, lower-right. This is rare look at it was taken from Queen Anne Hill, of course. Recreation Field was set east of 5th Avenue and south of Mercer Street. It's life was short-lived. The Siwashes moved to Capitol Hill.



Early in the 20th Century what was once the relatively agreeable grade of the Denny garden became a favorite destination for visiting circuses and their big tops.  (Some surviving Circus scholar will  likely know the occasions this land was used so.  Perhaps one will take the call.)

The Circus site here is easy to figure because the Troy Laundry appears in the photograph, far left. The view looks northwest from near Harrison Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. The laundry was on the northeast corner of Nob Hill Avenue and Republican Street. Those tents cover ground that is now shared by the north side of the Memorial Stadium with McCaw Hall and the Arena as far north as Mercer Street.
When figured with Queen Anne High School on the horizon, this circus appears to be setting up between 3rd Ave. and Nob Hill. It would seem then to be a different circus than the one above it, and perhaps also a block south of it - say the northwest corner of the Memorial Stadium, and with it very much on site for the Denny garden. This speculation would put the Troy Laundry just off frame to the right. It is also possible that this is the same circus - that the tents continued to the east, wrapping around the north side of the laundry.
The Troy Laundry appears in this pan from Queen Anne Hill, right of center, still at the southeast corner of Knob Hill and Republican. One block south is 4th Ave., where is now wraps around KCTS TV, and to the east 5th Avenue has been lift on fill. A home on the west side of 5th is nearly swallowed in this regrade. The garage on the east side of 5th is the service car barn for the Seattle Electric Company's north end trollies. This is also the old site of the Recreation Park Baseball field. Far left are Seattle Gas's two big tanks at 9th and Republican, later the site for the "Blue Flame Building." Mercer School is at the bottom-left corner at the northwest corner of 4th and Valley. Actually, it took up most of the block. A circa date is 1909. The west wing of Denny School, at 5th and Battery is still intact - but not for long as the Denny Regrade started carving away that far by 1910.






2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Seattle Center Corral”

  1. Hi Paul! A friend and I are straining our memories about Queen Anne Avenue and Galer street. As you move down the block to the North and on the West side of the street, we are trying to remember businesses that existed say 1955-1960. There was Kiro Radio, there was a bakery, he remembers a variety store, Al’s Hamburgers, the bowling alley, which was a theater before that and there was a hardware store and beauty supply store, But during that time and later
    some buildings were tore down. My recollection is there was a house on the Northwest corner of the intersection across from what was a chevron station and Julian’s pharmacy on NE corner, the Galer stairs and the Brick Apartments. Do you have some photos that might shed light on that? Terry Benish

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